Stress test: High-wire Cavaliers still alive in NBA Finals

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Go ahead, back them into a corner. Call them names. Write them off.

The Cavaliers don’t care.

For the fourth time in two years, Cleveland fought off elimination in the NBA Finals by winning just when it appeared their season was over.

On Friday night, the Cavs turned anger over some comments made by Golden State’s motor-mouthed forward Draymond Green into energy and their best performance this season. They broke scoring records in a stunning 137-116 victory that shoved this “Three-match” between new-school rivals to the West Coast for Game 5 on Monday.

And while most teams would prefer not to live on the edge, the Cavaliers seem to thrive there. The only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals, LeBron James and his buddies are basketball’s high-wire, high-risk act with no net to break their fall.

It’s dangerous, and not for the faint of heart.

“I don’t like it,” James said, drawing laughter after surpassing Magic Johnson in the record book with his ninth career Finals triple-double. “It causes too much stress, man. I’m stressed out. Keep doing this every year. But listen, at the end of the day we just got some resilient guys.”

The Cavaliers are still alive and have a chance to do what no other team has ever done in the NBA playoffs – rally from a 3-0 deficit.

It’s been done on big stages in other sports, perhaps most famously by the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who strung together four wins over the New York Yankees to win the AL pennant on the way to their first World Series title since 1918.

But in the 126 instances where NBA teams have fallen behind 3-0, none have recovered to win the series. Zero. That’s 0-126.

Maybe these chaotic Cavs are just the team to do it.

Stack up the odds, Cleveland conquers them.

“We’re a resilient group, resilient team,” said Kevin Love, who made 6 of 8 3-pointers and scored 23 points. “We have been in this situation before. Every year’s different, every playoff series, every game, but we just are a team that never count ourselves out.

“We feel like any game that we walk on the floor we have a great game plan and we expect to win. But we just continue to have that fire, continue to be resilient, but right now it’s just becoming one game at a time

“One quarter, each possession being huge for us, because that can make or break a team.”

But beyond their resiliency, the Cavs have displayed a mental toughness through all kinds of adversity. Over the past three years since James returned from Miami, the Cavs have handled injuries, constant scrutiny, drama – much of it self-inflicted- and even a midseason coaching change.

There doesn’t seem to be anything that rattles them, so it should be no surprise that on the verge of being swept by a Warriors team James called a “juggernaut” and “beast” before the Finals began, Cleveland dug down deep again.

Kyrie Irving knocked down seven of Cleveland’s 24 3-pointers – one of their three Finals scoring records – and had 40 points as the Cavs stopped Golden State’s 15-game postseason winning streak and lived to see another game.

The All-Star point guard, who made several Golden State defenders look silly with his darting moves, excels when things seem darkest. However, he can’t explain the defending champions’ ability to bounce back.

“Every game is do or die, and we understand that,” he said. “We’re ready to live in it.”

On Thursday, Green, whose suspension from last year’s Game 5 for hitting James in the groin helped swing the series to Cleveland, said he was looking forward to celebrating on Cleveland’s home floor for the second time in three years.

And while the comments didn’t come across as excessively brash given that they were from Green, Irving said the Cavs were offended and inspired by them.

“It’s part of the game,” Irving said. “But we knew what we were faced with. But then you add, of course, some chatter in there, and that adds some extra motivation. That taste wouldn’t have been the same if we would have lost tonight and they would have celebrated on our home floor. So I’ll just leave that at that.”

The Cavs were also well aware that in the final minutes of Game 3 that Stephen Curry stopped on the floor and squatted in what many perceived to be an insulting gesture.

The bottom line is that Cleveland has gotten these Finals to 3-1, a familiar situation that must give them a little comfort.

James, though, wouldn’t concede the Cavs have the Warriors right where they want them.

“No,” he said. “They got us where they want us. At the end of the day, we want to just try to put ourselves in position to play another game, and we did that and hopefully we can do it Monday night where we can come back here. So our mindset is try to go up there and get one.”

 

Thompson’s playmaking a steadying force for defending champs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson danced unabashedly in China after winning another NBA championship, and it got shared all over social media. He smoked a stogie on the rooftop, letting loose to reveal another side of himself.

“I didn’t plan for that video to go viral,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “I was just having fun. I’ve always been myself and having fun while doing it and learning to enjoy every day, because it goes by so fast.”

Coming to that mindset, however, has been a process for the seventh-year Golden State guard, who acknowledges for so long he put extreme pressure on himself to be the best.

The quiet, more under-the-radar Warriors All-Star of the bunch, Thompson has provided a steadying hand early on for the reigning NBA champions who are favored to capture a third title in four years.

“I used to stress a lot more at the beginning of my career about my performance,” Thompson recalled. “Now, it’s not like I don’t stress, but I play more carefree and I’m more able, if I play as hard as I can I’m satisfied with the results. … I used to compare myself with all players and want to be the best so badly, but now it’s all about winning and having fun and realizing basketball is more of a team sport than anything.”

After a recent practice, Thompson dazzled right alongside a couple of visiting Harlem Globetrotters, spinning the ball on his finger, rolling it up and down his arms, off his knee and then a foot soccer-style before swishing a short jumper.

“I should’ve been a Globetrotter!” he yelled.

It’s a new look for this hang-loose, beach-loving Splash Brother.

The approach is working for the Warriors.

“He still carries the threat. You have to honor him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s great at making the right play. Their whole team is. I think he’s trying to fit in with their whole buy-in that ball movement and passing is greater than any one man carrying the bulk of it.”

Still, his numbers are stellar. Thompson has had a fast start this season, which previously hasn’t been the case.

Thompson credits the familiarity with teammates and a comfort in coach Steve Kerr’s offense.

“He’s taken another step in his game. Just the experience that he’s had in his career, every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he’s shown how at the end of the season he carried it over to the beginning of this year,” backcourt mate Stephen Curry said. “Historically he hadn’t started seasons well but this year he’s locked in. He’s obviously shooting the ball well and playing great defense, but I think the biggest thing is his playmaking in situations where he’s drawing a crowd. He’s making great decisions setting guys up and just playing under control for the most part this entire season.”

Life off the court is great for Thompson, too, and that helps him be stress-free on it.

Look closely, and it’s easy to see he has come out of his shell.

On a day off last week, he golfed a popular public course close to Oracle Arena. Thompson signed someone’s toaster last spring, and it became a superstition.

In July, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Oakland Athletics game, then drove an IndyCar in September while serving as Grand Marshal of a series stop in Sonoma.

Thompson shares his training tricks on social media and posts photos with his bulldog, Rocco.

He recently donated $75,000 to relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California wildfires, committing $1,000 per point for a three-game stretch during which he scored 69 points – but added to that total.

He is a spokesman for chocolate milk and an obscure – in the U.S. anyway – Chinese shoe company. He signed an $80 million, 10-year extension to wear the sneakers.

“Life’s good,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get paid millions of dollars to wear shoes and apparel. I’m very proud to be a part of Anta. … It’s so cool that I’m big in China. I never thought I’d be on billboards and posters in China.”

Thompson has found a balance during the offseason to stay sharp, mixing up his workouts with outdoor activities he enjoys.

“It took years for me to figure out how to prepare the best I can for the season. I finally learned in my sixth year,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in shape almost year-round because as you get older it’s harder to get back into shape. It’s easier to get out of shape than it is to get back into shape. I do other things besides basketball to stay in shape in the offseason. I think that just keeps my mind fresh.”

He hopes to do a formal swim from Alcatraz, or even a triathlon. He swims in the ocean – “my favorite place in the world” – whenever he can. Freestyle is his strength, butterfly not so much. He plays hours of beach volleyball or just throws the football around and runs routes through the sand.

At work, he has been a model of consistency. Thompson is determined to be a better passer, creating for teammates whenever possible. He also usually guards the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.

Thompson is off to his best shooting season ever, with career highs of 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.

“I think his playmaking has been the best it’s been in his career,” Kerr said. “He’s really doing a good job of putting the ball on the floor and moving it on, drive and kick game, finding the centers in the pocket for little floaters. … It’s been his best passing season so far.”

Thompson used to get teased for his lack of assists, and it remains a running joke.

“I got thick skin,” Thompson quipped, “honestly I don’t really care.”

That carefree approach has taken time, and the Warriors are better for it.

 

Report: Mark Cuban in process to buy Mavericks’ G-League team

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There will come a day, in the not too distant future, when every NBA team will have an owned and affiliated G-League team. It will be a place for them to develop young players — guys they drafted but need more run than they’d get in the NBA, guys on two-way contracts, and just players they like and want to give a chance. The NBA is more and more becoming a development league — and if the one-and-done rule is replaced with something akin to the baseball rule for players going to college, having a strong G-League team will matter even more.

Which is why the news that Mark Cuban is about to buy the G-League team already affiliated with the Mavericks makes sense. Marc Stein of The New York Times broke the news.

While the name of the guys signing the checks will change with the Texas Legends, little else will.

It’s just another sign of the future in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas is up for a Cavaliers vs. Celtics playoff clash

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Isaiah Thomas says he has moved on from the trade this summer that caught him off guard, shipping him from Boston — where he was a fan favorite — to Cleveland.

Sort of. Like a lot of sudden relationship ends, Thomas says he’s moved on, but it doesn’t sound like he totally has yet. Look at what he told Sam Amick of the USA Today in an interesting Q&A.

“I’ve put it behind me, and I’ve continued to try to do that… But other than that, every day that I’m in the gym or that I’m on the court or in the weight room or doing whatever I have to do to get back to who I was, and get back to being 100 percent healthy, yes I do use it as motivation.”

Thomas has yet to set foot on the court as a Cavalier, spending the start of the season rehabbing a hip injury. He’s expected back next month.

It’s very early in the NBA season, we’re not at 20 games or even Thanksgiving yet, but it has become evident that the Cavaliers have some legitimate defensive concerns, and that the Boston Celtics are a legitimate threat to them.

That would set up a series between Thomas’ old team that he’s still a little angry at, and his new team in Cleveland. And Thomas is good with that.

“Oh, that would be lovely. That would be the story that God made, and it probably will work that way. It always does. It always works – I’m not going to say in my favor, but it seems to always work out no matter what the circumstance is. That would be a special moment. If they make it there, and we make it there, and then we clash, and then you never know what’s going to happen. But I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”

Not enough NBA players use the word “lovely” anymore.

But I’m with Thomas, I want to see that series, too.

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out two more weeks due to sprained ankle

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With Isaiah Thomas still rehabbing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, when he is available (he’s only played in half of Cleveland’s games). More Rose has not been good for Cleveland’s defense, and it’s forced Tyronn Lue to play Kevin Love more at center just to have enough shooting on the floor, so there are driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Now we will have to see what Lue and the Cavaliers do without Rose for a couple more weeks. Rose will be out for a couple of weeks with his sprained left ankle, the team announced Friday afternoon.

“Due to continued symptoms, the ankle will be immobilized in a boot for the next week and he will also undergo an extended treatment process over the next two to three weeks.”

Rose has averaged 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting this season in Cleveland.

With Rose and Thomas out, Cleveland has gone with Iman Shumpert technically as the point, although LeBron handles the playmaking duties. He brings some size to the position, but he can’t defend quick point guards well (not that Rose could). This new lineup has won the Cavaliers a couple of games in a row, although that has been far more about their offense making runs rather than their struggling defense (last in the NBA) stepping up.

It’s been tough to get a feel for this Cavaliers team and what they really are this season, in part due to all the injuries. This simply adds to that mess.

The Cavaliers take on the slumping Clippers Friday night.